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CPJ issues letter on anniversary of Borrero?s murder

(CPJ/IFEX) - The following is the full text of a letter by CPJ to Ernesto
Samper, President of Colombia, on the first anniversary of the murder of
journalist Gerardo Borrero:

**Updates IFEX alerts of 3 and 6 March and 24 February 1998, 3, 14, and 21
November 1997, and others**

On the first anniversary of the murder of journalist Gerardo Bedoya Borrero,
CPJ urges your Excellency to undertake a complete and impartial
investigation into the circumstances surrounding this killing. As you know,
Bedoya, the opinion editor of the Cali daily newspaper "El Pais", was shot
at least six times as he was getting out of his car at 20:00 on 20 March
1997, by a gunman who fled on a motorcycle. Bedoya, who was known as a harsh
critic of drug trafficking, had defended a controversial decision by the
United States to decertify Colombia as a recipient of U.S. economic aid. He
had also advocated the extradition to the United States of Colombian
nationals accused of drug crimes. Because of his views, and because of the
nature of the crime, it is widely believed that members of the Cali cartel
were behind the murder.

As an organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues
around the world, we are dismayed that no progress has been made in bringing
Bedoya’s murderers to justice. In fact, we are increasingly alarmed by the
climate of impunity that exists in Colombia for those who kill journalists.
In a little more than a year, CPJ has confirmed four instances in which
Colombian journalists were murdered in reprisal for their work, making it
the most dangerous country in Latin America to be a journalist. CPJ is also
investigating whether four other journalists who were killed in the last
year were targeted
because of their work. There have been no arrests in any of the eight cases.

This apparent inaction in bringing the murderers to justice sends a clear
message to those who wish to silence a critical press through violence. We
urge you therefore to devote the full resources of your office to ending
this pattern of impunity.

Below is a summary of cases documented by CPJ in the last year, in addition
to the assassination of Bedoya, in which Colombian journalists were killed
in retaliation for their work:

  • On 18 March 1997, two days before Bedoya was killed, free-lance
    Freddy Elles Ahumada was gunned down in Cartagena. His body showed signs of
    torture. Local journalists believe that Elles may have been assassinated in
    reprisal for his photographs of police violence published in the Bogota
    daily "El
    Espectador (see IFEX alerts of 19 and 21 March 1997).

  • On 8 November 1997, Francisco Castro Menco, president of the Fundacion
    Cultural, was shot to death by unidentified men in the violence-ridden town
    of Majajual in Sucre Department. Castro, a community leader and candidate
    for the departmental assembly in the October 1997 elections, hosted a daily
    program on community topics and often called for an end to the violence.
    Local journalists believe he was murdered because of his appeals for peace,
    but are unsure if guerrillas or paramilitary squad members are responsible
    (see IFEX alert of 14 November 1997).

  • On 20 November 1997, Jairo Elias Marquez Gallego, director of the magazine
    "El Marques", was killed in a drive-by shooting. Two gunmen on a motorcycle
    shot him as he was entering his car on a downtown street in the town of
    Armenia in western Colombia. Marquez had received numerous death threats in
    the past two years because of his crusade against corruption in the region
    (see IFEX alert of 21 November 1997).

    CPJ continues to investigate the following four murders of journalists to
    determine if they were carried out in retaliation for their work:

  • On 24 October 1997, Alejandro Jaramillo was reported missing in the
    town of
    Pasto in southwest Colombia. Over the next few days, parts of Jaramillo’s
    dismembered body were found scattered about the town. From June through
    August, Jaramillo had worked as deputy director of the newspaper "El Sur" in
    Pasto. Before taking that job, he had lived in exile in Ecuador, where he
    fled in 1989 after receiving death threats. Several years earlier, in an
    incident that may have been related to his work as a police reporter, he was
    shot and injured while working for "El Pais" in Cali. Because of the
    gruesome nature of his murder, involvement by organized crime is suspected
    (see IFEX alert of 3 November 1997).

  • On 22 February 1998, Oscar Garcia Calderon, who covered bullfights for the
    daily "El Espectador", was shot to death in Bogota. Garcia had left "El
    Espectador" at 19:30 after reporting on that day’s bullfight. Colleagues
    who remained at the offices received a phone call from the Attorney
    General’s office later that evening informing them that Garcia had been
    killed at 20:00 by three gunshots: two to the head and one to the neck.
    According to local journalists, Garcia was conducting investigations into
    the links between bullfighting and organized crime (see IFEX alert of 24
    February 1998).

  • On 2 March 1998, radio journalist Didier Aristizabal Galeano was shot to
    death in Cali after leaving the Santiago de Cali University. According to
    local journalists, Aristizabal was followed by two men riding a Yamaha
    motorcycle. When he stopped for a traffic light, the two men shot him nine
    times and fled the scene. Aristizabal worked as a political reporter for
    radio station Todelar in Cali until 1994, when he joined the faculty of
    Santiago University as a journalism professor. In 1996, he took a position
    as chief press officer for the Cali Fair, a bullfighting tournament. At the
    end of 1997, he helped the
    National Police in Cali set up a radio news station (see IFEX alerts of 3
    and 6 March 1998).

  • On 14 March 1998, radio journalist Jose Abel Salazar Serna was found dead
    in his
    apartment in the central Colombian town of Manizales. He had been stabbed 15
    times. Salazar hosted a radio program called "Youth in Action" on the
    Todelar station in Manizales, and called for peace and coexistence. The
    murder shocked Manizales, the capital of Caldas Department, which is known
    as a quiet town.

    Protecting freedom of expression means more than making a rhetorical
    it means providing the basic security to journalists so that they are able
    to freely carry out their work. As the Inter-American Human Rights
    Commission of the Organization of American States noted in creating the
    Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression earlier this month, "freedom of
    expression [is essential] for the existence and development not only of a
    democratic society and a state of law, but also for all other human rights."
    We urge you therefore to give special priority to the investigations into
    the murders of these eight journalists. Because a free press is a an
    essential component of a just society,
    we believe that those who kill journalists in order to silence them commit a
    crime against all Colombians.

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